Police have arrested The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa, investigations editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo following the publication of a story in the weekly’s latest edition which alleged that a syndicate comprising police officers, Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers and Asians was behind the latest spate of elephant killings in Hwange National Park.
Sasa, Chitemba and Farawo were still detained at Harare Central Police Station last night and police were still to record their warned and cautioned statements.
The trio’s lawyer James Muzangaza of Muzanga, Mandaza and Tomana said the three were arrested for allegedly publishing falsehoods as police claim that they have inquired at all police stations and found no reports of police investigating their members for alleged involvement in poaching activities. “Initially when I met the officers at Zimpapers (Herald House) they said they wanted the journalists’ cooperation. “In the afternoon I got the shocking news that they were arrested for refusing to disclose the source of their story. Attempts to have a warned and cautioned statement recorded were futile as the investigating officer said he was in Ruwa and could not record statements after 4.30 pm,” he said. He said efforts to get assistance from the police legal department were also futile.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary general Foster Dongozi condemned the arrest saying it was the trio’s right to expose the scandal as it was of national importance. “Why are they arresting the messengers? Why not conduct investigations to see which officials are involved?
“The issue of elephant poaching is of national importance. It was their right as journalists to expose the scandal. We condemn these acts of harassment. Police should not be seen anywhere near the newsroom. They should conduct their own internal investigations,” he said.
The story, headlined “Top Cop fingered in poaching saga”, alleged that one of the suspects under active investigation was an assistant commissioner in the police force and that several others had been arrested in connection with the killing of 22 jumbos last Sunday. The Sunday Mail further reported that the syndicate has allegedly killed around 55 Jumbos for their ivory tusks since early 2015.
Zimpapers chief executive Pikirayi Deketeke said he did not have the finer details of the case but said it was regrettable that police rushed to arrest the trio without first exhausting internal remedies available. “I don’t have the finer details of the case but the idea of arresting and detaining them without a charge does not augur well. We hope tomorrow we will get the finer details of the case as our lawyers were the last to get in touch with police,” he said